David Lawrence has been working in the pump industry for almost 20 years. Since he entered the industry as a Service Fitter, he has worked for some of the biggest names in the Australian pump manufacturing industry and is currently a Sales Manager at Grundfos. Here, David talks about his career and the people he’s had a chance to learn from, the future of the industry and the challenges it holds, and working in the age of Coronavirus.

From fitting and turning to pumps

My original profession straight out of school was a Fitting and Turning Apprenticeship at David Mitchell Limited in Lilydale.

I worked there for four years before floating between a few other jobs, mainly in the quarrying and mining sector.

I started working afternoon shifts for Nubrik in Scoresby as a Maintenance Fitter.

That was when the GST was first introduced, and they went from selling 1.9 million bricks a week down to about 80,000 bricks a week.

As a result, there were voluntary redundancies of which I took one.

That’s when I got into the pump industry as a Service Fitter for Pump Engineers in Victoria.

I moved into internal sales for a little while, then external sales before I moved on to a company called ATMR, which mainly focuses on the wastewater industry.

They soon closed down in Victoria resulting in another redundancy for me. Following that, I did a short stint as a subcontractor mainly working for Roger Withers at Regent Pumps.

He was fantastic; he’d heard that I’d lost my job and he jumped on the phone pretty much straight away when he found out.

He was very clear that he wasn’t offering me a job, but he was happy for me to come into Regent Pumps and do a few things.

So I did everything from production line to internal sales, and site work. Following him around the plant, watching Roger do what he did. He was fantastic, and helped me out over that period of time.

My next role was as the State Manager at Brown Brothers Engineers. I was there for five years. Within that role I also spent a little bit of time down in their Kelair branch, managing the sales team.

From there, I did a short stint at Franklin Electric, and then started at Grundfos where I’ve now been coming on six years.

I’m currently the Victorian and Tasmanian Sales Manager for Grundfos Pumps, working on strategic plans for the business, mentoring and leading the sales team.

An industry with a lot to offer

The pump industry is a good industry to be in; it gives you a vast range of experiences.

Early in my career when I first started fixing pumps you got to see a lot of things that you probably wouldn’t normally, you’d be in an abattoir at some point, which is a bit smelly, hot and a little gory, to an ice cream plant, which is clean, refrigerated and quite nice.

So it’s always offered quite a diverse experience. Sometimes you get to see things before they actually come out into the marketplace, with some experimental projects.

The industry always seems to be at the forefront of a lot of technologies, from solar through to energy recovery and water treatment.

There’s always something different happening, which keeps you interested and experiencing new things.

Making lifelong friends and learning from others

The most memorable part of my career has been the people within the industry that I’ve managed to meet some are great colleagues and some are now lifelong friends.

I like to think that everyone that you come in contact with is an opportunity for learning and for growth.

I’ve found that most people that I’ve come across have helped me grow as a person, so I don’t necessarily look at it as any individual person who has been a mentor, everybody that I’ve come in contact over my career has taught me something.

I’ve been lucky across all of the companies that I’ve been to, there’s been some really good people within those businesses that have helped me along the way.

In my current role, Jamie Oliver, who was my segment manager when I first started and then Kevin Stiles, my current manager, Sam Ryder, and my Area Managing Director, Rick Holland, have all really been a great help.

I’ve learnt a lot from them and they’ve all played pretty big roles in my recent career.

A changing industry and its challenges

I think of the industry at the moment as being a little bit like the automotive industry of the ‘70s and ‘80s, where electronics and control is really starting to take over and dominate because we’re looking for efficiency, power savings and digitisation.

People want to know what’s happening within their pumps, they want apps, they want visibility.

When you now go out to site to deal with a pump, you’re plugging laptops and connecting apps to the pump to diagnose what’s happening.

Similar to the mechanic of the ‘70s and ‘80s when it went from carburettors and points and distributors to ECUs and fuel injection and turbo charging.

So our industry is really accelerating from that point.

Variable speed drives have been around for a long time, but now permanent magnet motors are starting to come into the mix.

People are wanting to connect up to building management systems and they’re wanting to know what’s happening in their pumps in real time.

They want to know when it’s going to fail and what’s the service interval. It’s certainly becoming more of a digital landscape than it is a
mechanical landscape.

Some of the biggest challenges for us working in the industry is keeping up with this evolving technology. The skill set we need is changing so much.

Traditionally you would be a mechanical engineer, or a fitter and turner like myself, but nowadays with the way things are heading more towards drives and controls, and internet platforms, we’re starting to see the need to understand more of the control side of things, similar to electrical engineers or electricians.

The industry is shifting away from being mechanical-based to becoming more of an electronic/electrical-based industry.

So us as an industry, we need to be evolving too, and learning a lot of new skills to keep up with that.

Another challenge is the world is becoming more open and the buying habits of people are starting to change as well.

From a selling point of view, you need to be evolving and the days of the account manager or sales rep with a briefcase driving around and visiting everyone is very different now.

They don’t have as much spare time, so you’ve got to be very direct and efficient with the way you’re dealing with people.

The way I was taught, and the way I used to sell back in my 20s compared to now, it has to be very different.

Information is a lot more available, so the client is not relying on your technical ability quite as much anymore.

They can do the research online and find out what they think they need to know before you’ve even set foot in their business.

Adapting to COVID-19

At this point in time it’s been a very reactive response to the circumstances, they’ve changed so rapidly and so frequently that it’s been very hard to keep up.

We’re very fortunate, being a big corporate business, that most of our systems and processes were online so we were able to transition from going into the office for work, to having to pack everything up and work from our homes in a very short timeframe.

From a supply chain, production, sales type perspective, we weren’t really impacted all that much. In fact, it’s almost business as usual for us.

Just a little unusual that we’re all sitting at home, rather than being out and about.

The biggest adaptation has been the social interaction of staff, and the issues that come around from not having that social contact with each other.

As a business, we’ve implemented a lot of virtual contact with each other – virtual coffee breaks, lunches, Friday drinks – to keep all of the staff engaged and in contact with each other. That seems to be working quite well.

We’re also making sure that we’re having phone calls with each other, we’re encouraging the teams to keep business as usual, and trying to keep in contact as much as we can.

Advice for the next generation

Use the people around you. It’s a great industry, and it’s full of a lot of interesting characters and very knowledgeable people.

If you’re wanting to have a long career within the industry, you need to use the experience of the people that have been in it for a long time.

It’s important to learn the fundamentals as well. I was very fortunate in my early years to work with two gentlemen by the name of Bill Williams and Bill Smith when I was at Pump Engineers.

Their knowledge of the fundamentals of what we do as an industry was invaluable.

I think knowledge of some of the fundamentals is disappearing. For example, affinity law viscosity corrections are now done by selection programs.

I think the knowledge of how that’s calculated, why that’s calculated, and what the effects are of having to do those calculations has been lost a little bit.

I think that understanding the back end of what needs to be thought about when selecting a pump will really help you because it’s so important to what we do.

Maintaining a work-life balance

Outside of thinking about pumps and pump related stuff, I’m obsessed with motorcycles. Every other moment from a hobby point of view revolves around motorcycles.

I like to ride them – mainly Enduro style off-road motorcycling– and restore them. I’ve currently got a 1983 Yamaha RZ 250 road bike that I’m in the process of doing up.

My family is another really big part of my life. My wife, Monique, and my 14-year-old son, William. If I’m not playing with motorcycles or playing with pumps, I’m normally spending time with my family and going out for dinner, or going out for walks.

I love the outdoors, and we do a lot of that as a family; camping, bush walking, coffee, cake and food.

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